Quiet Attraction

A person wants to hush as they enter. Perhaps not in the first few steps as they pass some of the more modern features — but certainly as they enter and tip their head back to gaze up into the rotunda ceiling.

St. Louisians call it the Old Courthouse. The original building on the site was completed in 1828. The city was growing rapidly and soon demanded a larger Courthouse. The first of several additions/expansions/reconstructions was begun in 1839. The iron dome (one of the first in the United States) was completed in 1861. At 190 feet, it instantly became a landmark within the city and a reference point for steamboat pilots on the river.

Like all courthouses, history happened within it’s walls. During the years of operation a variety of cases in a variety of jurisdictions were heard, settled, appealed, and argued again. The most famous of these started routine in November 1846 when the salves Dred and Harriet Scott filed suit against their owner for freedom based on the grounds of previous residence in free territory. The Scotts lost and appealed. The won the second trial but the case was then sent to the Missouri State Supreme Court. Eventually the case was decided in March 1857 by the United States Supreme Court. (The Scotts lost and straw was laid on the smoldering fire which would erupt into the Civil War.)

In the mist of a winter morning, the Old Courthouse copper sheathed dome is framed by the taller Gateway Arch.

The building is a museum operated by the National Park Service. A good, quiet place to get a summary of St. Louis history amid some pleasing, practical architecture.

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